… a plethora of baby worms!
Today I frantically dug through my indoor European Nightcrawler worm bin, trying to find out if my recent, too-acidic feeding killed anyone. I learned two things:
1. These are worm eggs.
2. European Earthworms love cardboard and pretty much any paper products! I found a huge percentage of the adult ones clustered around the paper and torn up toilet paper rolls I put in there. Anywhere where there was a clump of that stuff, at least five big ones were tangled in it and some of these precious eggs were close by.
According to what I’ve read about them, this means that they consider my scrap paper an awesome feeding source. Apparently worms lay their eggs near their feeding source.
I wasn’t expecting for this to be the case; all of the online sources say that European Earthworms feed near the surface, but I found them anywhere the paper was, including near the bottom (where I found even more eggs). So, I tore up a couple egg cartons, soaked them in water, distributed them on the surface, and then tucked them in.
These guys are recycling machines!
When I have enough, I’m going to start giving these away to everyone I know. Five pounds of these guys (which could fit in this container) could eat 5lbs of matter per day, including paper! I suspect that they actually eat it a little slower than that, but there is less in there than there was when I started this bin. Imagine how much paper waste could be reduced if everyone had a worm bin!
So far, I’ve had the most success with green onions, garlic cloves, and herbs. All of the other vegetables I’ve attempted sprout well and then fade/stall at growing their true leaves (most likely because of lack of light, but we’ll get to that in another post).
One plant seems to be doing quite well; it’s color is dark, it’s growing quickly, and it doesn’t seem bothered by the amount of light. What plant is this? Broccoli!
Now, my excitement could be too hasty, as the plants are still quite small.
However, in preparation for the event that this plant does as well for it’s entire life as it has in the last three days, I’ve looked up some facts about broccoli.
Things You Miss By Buying Broccoli at the Grocery Store
- The adult broccoli plant is huge. It can reach about three feet in diameter. Unfortunately, the head, or the actual part that we eat, is quite small compared to the rest of the plant. After discovering just how small the “edible part” was, I started reconsidering taking the time and energy to grow broccoli.
- Then, it occurred to me that perhaps there was another way to approach this plant then I’d learned as a regular, American consumer. Perhaps I was missing out by just eating the head. Perhaps the rest of the plant was edible too. Who knows?
- Turns out I was right! Broccoli leaves are completely edible and there are numerous recipes online regarding their preparation. Here are some of the sources I found:
- Nutrition facts about broccoli leaves: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2815/2
- An online conversation about the preparation and taste of broccoli leaves. Apparently they are quite tasty when picked young and some people grow the plant just for the leaf! They reportedly can be used just like kale! http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/harvest/msg030829449882.html
- Online broccoli leaf recipe resources: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ix=hea&ie=UTF-8#hl=en&gs_nf=1&gs_mss=broccoli%20leaves%20nutrition&tok=0R9xd17mg5-jITvhYx6ztg&cp=18&gs_id=6&xhr=t&q=broccoli+leaves+recipe&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&oq=broccoli+leaves+re&aq=0&aqi=g1g-v3&aql=&gs_l=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=160a46efcf63646c&ix=hea&biw=950&bih=496
Broccoli Isn’t the Only One Whose Leaves You Miss at the Grocery Store!
- So far, I have discovered that garlic greens can be used in the place of regular garlic! It tastes exactly the same, is easier to handle in the kitchen, and, from previous research I did on it for a class report a while back, it contains more of the active compounds that garlic is reputed for than the bulb!
- Additionally, cauliflower leaves and brussel sprout leaves (pretty much any relative of the wild mustard) can also be consumed.
- Above is a picture of sauteed pea greens. The vine of the pea plant can be used like spinach! That’s great news, considering the amount of time and space it takes to grow peas. Here’s a basic recipe: http://localfoods.about.com/od/fruitsvegetables/tp/aboutpeagreens.htm
Waste Not, Want Not.
I have a different perspective on GMO than you’re going to find in any other sustainability-oriented blog- I support GMO research.
“What the hell?” You may ask. “How dare she! She must be very ignorant to support such a thing.”
Actually, I would be quite hypocritical if I DID NOT support it. You see, I have actually done GMO research myself. I work in a plant molecular biology lab at a state college. There, we study the movement of fluid and tiny organelles through phloem.
Inserting antibiotic resistance into plants along with a fluorescent gene allows us to select for the plants that contain the gene by exposing them to the antibiotic and seeing if they can grow. If they do, then they contain the antibiotic resistance gene with the fluorescent gene; this is how we know the gene insertion was successful. This allows us to figure out what certain proteins and organelles in the plant do because we can watch them while the plant is alive, using the green fluorescent gene!
This type of gene insertion is responsible for an overwhelming amount of recent discoveries about how genes and proteins function. It’s performed on model organisms, which are not allowed to leave the lab (all research materials are put through an autoclave to prevent outside contamination). *however, even if outside contamination happened, it is highly unlikely that it would negatively affect wild species. To begin with, fluorescent proteins only show up when you apply a certain wavelength of light to them. Secondly, they are proteins which occur elsewhere in nature and are easily degraded. Third, other fluorescent proteins are naturally produced by all plants when they grow! This is why we have to insert one that shows up at a different wavelength- when you look at a plant under a laser microscope, you will see a bunch of blue florescence that was naturally produced by the plant at it’s root tips and in all growing regions. This is a slightly different color than the GPF gene produced. Both are naturally occurring and don’t harm the organism or anything that eats it. We have been eating auto-fluorescent proteins in many different species, including plants, for many millennial. The plants we grow in the lab produce virile seeds, which we collect and use for future plantings. You cannot tell from any measure other than shining a laser on the plant that any change has happened in the organism’s genome. *
Now I know that GMO CROPS are what the majority of you are concerned about and I’d like to take a moment to clear up some misconceptions.
COMMON GMO MYTHS SET STRAIGHT
- You cannot “catch a gene” by eating a GMO plant. If this was the case, you would already be inundated with plant and animal genes. In fact, your body produces nucleases which break down all DNA and RNA that’s floating around freely in your body. You even have these chemicals on your skin and they are so powerful that brushing your finger on the rim of a test tube will result in complete annihilation of the DNA you were trying to study. This is why we wear gloves and order certain “nuclease free” products to do our experiments in.
- GMO genes do not cause an organism to make a completely new protein that is unnatural and therefore poisonous to your body. As stated above, all genes transferred throughout different organisms with GMO technology are made with DNA, which you break down quickly thanks to nucleases. The same thing goes for the products of these genes; genes produce proteins and these break down in your body due to the action of protein cleaving enzymes.
- GMO genes by themselves have never been found to make something that consumed them ill. This may surprise you, given all the information about the Round-Up GMO organisms, but let’s be clear- it’s NOT the Round-Up resistance GENE that’s dangerous, it’s the Round-Up chemical itself! If you ate plants containing the Round- Up resistance gene all day long, nothing would happen to you. On the other hand, if you ate the plants after the Round-Up was sprayed on them, things might go poorly in the future.
- The term “GMO” does not automatically mean that a fish gene was put into a plant. It actually applies to any breeding strategy that was accomplished in the lab.
- It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that the type of genetic modification that causes “steroid” strawberries and seedless watermelons is going to hurt you. The large size is actually caused by increasing the number of chromosome copies in the strawberry to 8n instead of the normal 2n, where n=one complete set of chromosomes. This happens regularly in plant species and the resulting condition of polyploidy is a common phenomena in plants. If the result of this mutation is an even number of chromosome sets (such as 8n), the plant will be able to breed and produce fertile offspring. If not, it will not be able to undergo meiosis properly and will produce faulty gametes. In the wild, these mutated “plant experiments” (nature is the original scientist) would die off naturally. In the lab, triploid watermelons are produced specifically because they WILL have those faulty gametes (aka tiny, non-existent seeds). You eat other plants that are polyploid all the time. It is impossible for these changes to harm you.
- Extra large, genetically modified species are good for the environment. This relates to the most ridiculous misconception of them all- that increasing the size of a plant structure through genetic modification is dangerous for you and the environment. Do you have any idea how modified the organisms we already use for food are compared to their wild counterparts? Here’s a picture of the completely unmodified, wild cousins of what we eat today.
Genetic modification by itself is not bad for the environment. In fact, GMOs a are being used to clean up the environment . Although crude-oil eating bacteria exist in the wild, they have been genetically modified to be many times more efficient at it and are now being used to clean up oil spills.
Lastly, modifying a plant to make it grow more of the part you use or to be more hardy decreases the amount of space you need to use to grow it in order to get the same result. Now, if this modification ALSO requires that you use harmful chemicals in order to really accomplish what you’re trying to do (like Round-Up Resistance in order to not have to deal with weeds), then you run a public health risk. But if you are just changing the gene patterns, it will not result in harm to anyone who eats it. At worse, it may breed with wild species. However, this doesn’t mean that the wild species is necessarily harmed. In fact, the only people who are worried about this are the ones who are using GMO technology to make plants resistant to harmful chemicals. Do you really care if all of the weeds also became resistant to Round-Up? Maybe the Round-Up advocates would stop this nonsense if that happened and start looking more closely at less harmful chemicals or perhaps none at all.
9. We do know for sure how some genes will affect the organism and those who eat it in the long run. Many believe that scientists have no idea how any genetic modifications will play out in the long run. Actually, we do, thanks to excessive experimentation. However, this is only true for modifications that have been studied over the course of many years or who are of a nature which cannot possibly harm (see the steroid strawberry example). Many of these modifications exist: for example, golden rice (the real problem with this specific modification is that the giant corporation which did it also rendered the plants containing it infertile so farmers would have to continue buying from them. This infertility modification is the real danger, as it reduces genetic diversity and increases farmer dependence on the giant corporation. The beta-carotene producing rice was a good idea.)
10. Not all GMOs are all frivolous modifications that we could live without. In fact, some humans would not have lived past their tenth birthday if it wasn’t for GMOs. This is because some bacteria have been modified to grow human insulin. Before this, we used pig insulin, which differs from human insulin by two amino acids. Therefore, pig insulin was not effective in certain individuals because they produced anti-bodies to it.
Cancer and hormone research would stall altogether if it wasn’t for the production of genetically modified mice, but that’s another topic altogether.
11. GMO plants can be grown using completely organic practices. As I already mentioned, I breed plants that have been genetically modified and all of their reproductive functions are normal (everything about them is normal, other than the color certain parts of them turn when I apply a certain wavelength of laser). It’s the corporations that invent specialty, genetically modified plant lines who purposefully render their plants infertile. This is done to “protect the rights to their invention”. I’m not convinced it’s ethical.
12. It takes careful thought in every individual situation to determine whether or not the genetic modification is harmful. I’m putting together a checklist to help consumers understand what different genetic modifications mean. This will include how to ask the right questions that will help you determine whether or not the genetic modification is a genius, perfect solution to a long-term problem or hastily performed experiment that implies real danger.
In conclusion: there are good things happening as a result of GMO technology and there are bad things happening as a result of greedy corporations using GMO technology in combination with dangerous chemicals. Please do not characterize an entire science because of this.
Instead of automatically assuming that every genetic modification is bad, please research specifically what has been done and make buying decisions based on real knowledge.
DO NOT LET OTHERS DO YOUR THINKING FOR YOU. Assuming that every genetic modification is harmful is as ignorant as assuming they are all good.
The last couple weeks have been packed with seemingly insignificant progress. While I learned that the best and easiest way to keep garlic fresh is to sprout it, I haven’t had time to make a grow light, or construct an organizational scheme for the planting. In the mean time, as seen below, my lettuce plants are suffering. According to several online sources, they are “too leggy” and this is apparently caused by lack of proper lighting.
Also, as you can see, cut in half, gallon milk-jugs with holes sliced in the bottom make excellent medium table pots (and are readily available throughout the neighborhood on recycling day).
Lettuce Lessons Learned
- Do not attempt to grow lettuce indoors without a grow light or excellent windows.
- They sprout exceptionally well, so there is no real need to put them in a starter cell and then transplant them through various containers. In fact, this is more likely the damage their extremely thin roots than to help them. Just throw 1 seed in a medium bin of dirt (the cut in half milk-jug is just about perfect), water it for two days, and watch it sprout nearly 100% of the time.
In other news, I solved my worm bin problem (they were all crawling out at night and dying on the kitchen floor). I bought a very fine mesh cloth for $2 and it seems that the worms are incapable of crawling on it. Since putting this in, not one worm has been found crawling up the sides.
A side note: it’s taking a while to get the European Nightcrawlers to eat regular kitchen scrap compost. They wouldn’t touch it to begin with, so I started covering it in this “worm food” I bought from the worm dealer (which appears to be some sort of grain ground into fine flakes) and mixing this whole concoction with finely crushed egg shells. As soon as I added the egg shells, the garbage started disappearing.
Important Recommendations Based on Experience with Nightcrawlers so Far
- Give them finely crushed egg shells with each new feeding
- Place the food on the surface and don’t mix it in. First of all, European Nightcrawlers are especially sensitive to the acidity of the soil and you may unwittingly be throwing it off for them when you mix it in. Secondly, they are surface feeders and naturally come to the top to feed and mate. Third, you don’t want to overfeed these little guys and the only way to make sure you aren’t putting too much in there at once is to keep it all where you can watch it.
- The majority of the food should be grains or non-acidic foods, such as green vegetables. You can feed them used coffee grounds and coffee filters (also on the surface) BUT make sure to mix egg shells in with this stuff and to keep it on the surface!
- Keep the soil moist by dampening it morning and night when you first get them. My bin drains really well, which seems to be working out for the worms- I haven’t found one dead worm since the great escape. But this means it also dries out within a day and a half. Which brings me to my next point.
- Keep a large bucket of water that was drawn at least 24 hours before use next to the worm bin (the chlorine in tap water kills off the bacteria that help your worms do their job and enhance your soil. Letting the water sit out overnight allows the chemical to evaporate). Use this on the worm bin and your plants. Most likely, you will find that some of it collects in the container under your worm bin after draining through and under your plants. Collect this before anyone or anything is flooded and dump it back in the bucket. Over time, this water will turn into worm tea and you will already be in the habit of using it on everything. In addition, you wont have to refill the bucket more than once a week if you’re like me and have a fairly small indoor operation taking place.
MORE SEED REVIEWS AND A PLEASANT SURPRISE
I ordered broccoli, pearl onions, and two-star loose-leaf lettuce off of the Territorial Seed company website. So far, I’ve only had time to plant the broccoli, but it immediately sprouted! By the way, these are open-pollinated seeds (all of the ones I purchased from this company). I’ve also received my seed order from Sustainable Seed Company, but have not had time or resources to plant any. This should change in about two more weeks and I’ll have more to update with.
I forgot to put a cloth or something similar in it to prevent the worms from crawling through the holes. This resulted in the great worm escape of 2012.
All that dirt on the side is the result of them scaling the walls. Some died on the kitchen floor, but the majority were put back in the soil and placed under light so they’d crawl back in. I’ve had the lid on ever since and now they seem to be congregating by the food and not trying to go crazy. The guy I bought them from (who sounded like Larry the Cable guy age 80 over the phone), said they would be kind of crazy for the first couple days until they settled down from the trip
In other news, I enjoyed my first “harvest” today. I took the tops off my some of my green onion and garlic plants.
and made this:
The trick to harvesting salad shoots from these plants is to cut at least four inches from the base of the soil. The rate of growth increases the taller the plant gets. The onions in particular, started with about 1/5th of an inch of growth a day. Now they are growing nearly a half inch a day and this rate seems to keep increasing the taller they get.
- Put a cloth in the worm bin to keep them from crawling out of the holes
- Harvest green shoots 4 inches from their base
As you can see, my green onion experiment is coming along nicely:
This is what we started with. These were the bottoms of green onions I’d bought for a salad. They were placed in water for about four days and then placed in this. I’ve been watering them twice a day from above and now they look like this:
The garlic cloves (also taken from a bunch I used for cooking) were planted upright and mostly covered in soil. I sprinkled parsley and cilantro seeds around them. Originally they looked like this:
Today this is what they look like (if you squint, you can see baby parsley!):
Also, you might remember my seed review on the Bentley brand. I saw nearly 100% germination within the first two days! Well, now we have 100% germination and, as you can see, the lettuce seems to be thriving in the seed starter wells. This is about three day’s growth:
Lastly, remember those several-year-old beans I had sitting in my cupboard that had the really great germination rate? Well, this is what they look like after only ONE week’s growth:
On the left hand row closest to us is one of the two peas out of 18 that I planted (BURPEE brand= terrible germination rates for me!). On the back row, on the far right, you can see the squash plant slightly falling over under it’s own weight.
I’m seeing GREAT results so far! Now I just need to build a couple grow lights!